Sunday, May 24, 2015

Starting off right

One of the worst mistakes I often see young dudes making is that of copying advanced guys routines.

They look at elite level bodybuilders or powerlifters and want to know what they do for training, then think that it somehow means if they use that routine, then they will make the kind of muscular gains the elite level guy does.

First off, each person needs to experiment enough to find out what he can tolerate in terms of recovery, what movements he responds best to for his leverages, his level of development, and the areas he needs the most work in.  And it takes time to know your body enough to figure these things out so that you can write your own training program to take advantage of your strengths, and correct your weaknesses.

An advanced lifter is usually arranging his routine based around the specific things HE or SHE needs at that moment in time, what they can recover from, and often times things they can do pain free (because of previous injury).

You're better off, if you want to ask them a question, ask them what kind of training they did at a similar stage in their training life that you are in now. Or what kind of training they recommend for someone at your level.

Copying the pros is really a terrible idea. If you're 155 pounds and haven't built a solid base of strength and muscle mass, then doing 5 sets of cable crossovers and then 5 sets of flyes is a huge waste of your time.

Second, regardless of what you read on the net, most cookie cutter routines are in fact a good starting place for novice and intermediate lifters just to get that base started.  

But outside of that, what are some "do's and don'ts" that a young guy should be adhering to when trying to figure out his own way?  

This is not an all inclusive list, but it's a good starting point.

Do - 

Train at least four times a week -  

A lot of beginner programs suggest training three times a week but I think it needs to be more.  

I will explain why.

When you are a novice or intermediate, adaptation to stimulus is at an all time high.  But so is recovery.  This is why growth and progress are so substantial in the early stages.  Because the body is having to learn coordination of the movements, incurs muscle damage very easily, and yet also because you're not very strong can recover quite easily.  

If you want to progress as quickly as possible, train four to six times a week as a beginner.  As you progress up through the intermediate ranks, you will then probably have to scale things back, and maybe even more become very advanced.  

Base your program around the big lifts -  

You've read this a million times more than likely.  But there's a good reason for it.  A beginner has no idea how to "make the muscle work" so everything you do is "moving weight through space."  

And this is perfectly fine for right now.  Until that mind to muscle connection develops, there's no need to worry about isolation movements or machine work.  

From top to bottom, movement selection should be - 

Chest - Bench press, incline press, dips
Shoulders - Overhead Press
Back - Barbell and dumbbell rows, chins
Arms - Close Grip Bench, barbell curls
Legs - Squats, stiff legged deadlifts, lunges

This is a great list to start with and one can arrange a myriad of routines just based around these movements.  

An easy way to split this out is as follows -

Day 1 - Chest - Shoulders - Arms
Day 2 - Legs and Back
Day 3 - Rest
Day 4 - Chest - Shoulders - Arms
Day 5 - Legs and Back
Day 6 and 7 - off

Start learning and applying some basic nutrition - 

This is a good time to ditch shit like fast food, simple sugars, and overly processed foods.  

At some point down the line, you're going to get a wake up call that your diet plays a major role in how you look and how you perform.  Garbage in is garbage out.  So it's important that you start making changes now that solidify good eating habits.  

A few sub-points to apply here are as follows - 

1.  Never train fasted - This is perhaps the dumbest idea to come along in a while from fad diets.  Intermittent fasting pretty much the dumbest thing in the history of muscle building diets I've ever read.  It violates all the principles we KNOW you must follow to grow (increasing muscle protein synthesis and reducing muscle protein breakdown as much as possible post training, as well as reducing cortisol).  Eat a few hours before you train.  A good protein source, some clean carbohydrates like oatmeal or cream of rice, and a small amount of fats.  
2.  Eat a good meal post training - Again, no one ever grew and got bigger from not eating.  Follow the same recommendation the pre-training meal has.  A good protein source like chicken, lean red meat, turkey, or eggs, and a good carbohydrate source.  You don't need to fret nutrient timing at this stage of your training life so there's no need to get overly complicated about it.
3.  Cut out fast food and junk food - Or reduce it as much as possible.  Which leads to point four.
4.  Learn how to cook - If you're a grown ass man, you should know how to cook some basic shit.  Eggs, steak, chicken, rice, etc.  It's not hard to grill up 6 chicken breasts at a time for the next few days of eating.  Cook a big pot of rice and you've got several meals ready for the next few days.  When you eat it all, repeat.  This is not difficult. 
5.  Learn how to count calories - I don't care what you've read, and what some diet guru tells you.  Counting calories DOES WORK.  The last few years the net has been overrun with gurus who try to confuse people by molesting science and studies to somehow prove that counting calories does not work.  It absolutely fucking does.  It is true that all calories are not equal, i.e. 100 calories from gummy bears isn't going to be the same as 100 calories from sweet potatoes, but once you understand good food selection calories counting DOES WORK.  Stop listening to these guys that tell you that basic calorie counting does not work.  If you're eating a quality selection of foods, then taking in fewer calories than you are using for the day will get you leaner.  Taking in more will make you gain weight.  It's really that simple.  No, it really is.  
6.  Understand protein, fat, and carbohydrate requirements at a basic level - Once you figure out how many calories you need for the day, if you're taking in 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (this applies regardless of your level of experience) then you fill the rest of your diet in with 20% of your daily calories coming from fat, and whatever is left over coming from carbs.  That's it.  It's that simple.  By the way, 1 gram of protein is 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate is 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat is 9 calories. 

Learn how to warm up properly - 

I see beginners fuck this up a lot.  They go to bench 185 for reps and do 95 for a million reps.  Then 135 for a million reps.  Then right to 185.  

A better option in this case would be like so -

Bar - 2 sets of 20
95 - 1 set of 8
115 - 1 set of 5
135 - 1 set of 4
155 - 1 set of 3
170 - 1 set of 2
185 - work sets

Work on perfecting technique - 

You're going to spend the rest of your training life doing this.  You might as well get in the habit of it now.  

If you don't have a good coach to help you learn, then spend a lot of time reading and watching videos from guys who have good technique, and figure out for you, based on your leverages, what that looks and feels like.  This is going to take some time, but if you're in this for the long haul then how long it takes doesn't really matter.  This is the best investment you can make early on that pays off later.  The last thing you want to do is worry about relearning all your movements after you've spent years developing muscle movement patterns that really aren't efficient for your leverages.  

Don't - 

Spend a bunch of money on supplements - 

A good protein powder at this point is about all you need.  You do not fucking need some pre-workout, creatine (no, you really don't), HMB, glutamine, an assortment of multi-vitamins, or any other pill or powder.  

I will give you an example of this.  

Creatine is a supplement that REALLY works.  It does.  However people soon started showing up saying they were "creatine non-responders".  Turns out, through studies, it was people who simply did not have enough muscle mass for creatine to work, i.e. the "container" (the amount of muscle they had) simply wasn't big enough for it to make a difference.  In essence, adding creatine made no difference because they got all the creatine they needed through food.  

One thing I know is that the things that apply to novice guys, often don't apply to advanced guys on so many levels, and vice versa.  This is just another example of why noobs don't need to be applying all the methods advanced guys use.

Get your FOOD right first.  

Max out - 

I still can't find a reason to max out in the gym after 26 years.  If you're competing, save your big lifts for the platform.  If you're a bodybuilder, you literally have NO REASON to max out.  If you're a gym rat that doesn't compete in anything, I still can't find a reason.  

"For fun." is about the only thing I've heard that is even applicable.  

If you need to "test" where you are, a hard triple or set of five will let you know.  But especially at the beginner or intermediate level, I just see zero reasons to max out in the gym.  Just zero.  There are far too many other things you should be concerned with than what your one rep max is.  

Is your technique perfect?  Or even really, really good?


So you're doing a one rep max using really shitty technique.  Awesome.  

Be smart.  Not stupid.  

Do a bunch of isolation work - 

I see so many guys that come into the gym with 11" arms and 36" chests that have horrible technique on everything, and are weak as hell, and they spend their whole time in the gym doing 1 arm dumbbell preacher curls, cable crossovers, and leg extensions.  

Those movements can and do have a place.  They just don't have a place for you if you're serious about making improvements as quickly as possible.  The more time you spend doing these kinds of movements, the less time you have to spend on working on the things that will pay off biggest in the long run.

Allow form to break down to get in more reps - 

This comes back to drilling your technique.  

You have to remember that you are creating habits in the early stages of your training.  So if you create bad habits, they become hard to break later on.  I still see advanced guys that get into shitty positions on their maximal lifts all the time.  The reason this is, is because they taught themselves in the early stages that it was ok to allow technique to break down in order to get a lift in.  

I used to think that on maximal attempts that "hey, some form is going to break down.  It's not a beauty contest."  But the fact is, if your technique is breaking down then it means something in the chain is very weak, and needs to be addressed.  Since you're a noob, and are weak everywhere, it behooves you to start creating habits now not to let technique breakdown, and understand that doing so is a great way to get injured, create muscular imbalances, and miss lifts later in competition.  

You should be able to hit maximal lifts in perfect technique.  If you've spent enough time perfecting technique then why would you break away from perfect technique to get a lift in?  So you spend all this time squatting, pressing, and deadlifting a certain way, only to deviate from it in competition?  Doesn't make a lot of sense.  

Learning the proper technique and applying it should mean you are in the best possible leverages position to execute the lift.  If your technique breaks down...then what are you in?  

Worry about "weak points" - 

You're weak everywhere.  The whole "weak points" thing used to be the biggest matra on the net and everyone became very obsessed with finding out every weak point they had.  When you're a beginner or novice, you're weak everywhere.  At some point down the line you may reach a point where you are in a position to ask yourself "where are my weak points?" but right now is not the time.  Just get stronger overall on the big lifts with proper form.  

Fret if it's not all perfect at first - 

To throw a cliche out there to end this, lifting a long journey.  It takes a long time to get certain things "right".  Don't worry if it's not all perfect within the first few years of training.  The point of training is to practice getting it perfect.  And that is going to take a very long time.  

But if you eat like a champion, train like a champion, and develop a championship mindset, then eventually it will all come together and you'll perform like a champion.  

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  1. What would you recommend in terms of set/rep scheme for novices?

    1. It all depends on what movement. I didn't cover that because I believe that's more in depth than a generic recommendation.

  2. this is a great piece man. soooo many people i know starting up just want to do the exact opposite of the basics. you know, peck decks and pushdowns

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This post is pretty fucking solid. Anyone who frequents places with beginner posts on the web should bookmark this and link from now on!

  5. Yes, but what about three full-body sessions a week (i.e. squat, push, pull). Isn't that al least comparable to the splits you suggest?

    1. No because those are far more limited in the number of movements you can do.

    2. There's pluses and minuses to it. I will cover those in the new book.

  6. Returning lifter here and was actually thinking of doing something like this. But I had a question. If a lifter is deconditioned abd struggles with pushups is he better off focusing on that or can he improve his work capacity by increasing volume overtime with the setup you provided?

  7. Sorry I had tried to post a better question but it kept glitching. Dave Tate believes that a newb shouldn't touch a bar if you can't do 100 pushups. He also mentions dips abd pullups but numbers aren't given on these excercises. What are your thoughts?

  8. Thank you Mr. Carter for another solid, A+ post.

    Its nice to hear a clear voice of hard-earned wisdom in the morass of crap circulating out here.

    I have been lifting seriously for about 4 years (after recovering from about 10 wasted years doing "functional training") and would not consider myself any more than an intermediate lifer (4 week cycle 450 DL, 300 Bench, 425 squat). I have been guilty of all these mistakes and they cost me irreplaceable years and months of life. I still have much to learn.

    If anyone is going to sacrifice the life and sweat it takes to get strong, they are well advised to listen to your advice. Thank you.

  9. Hi Paul. Is it possible to get big on just the compound moves? I looked at Larry Williams with Animal which is only 19 years old and it looks like all he does are the basics and he is huge . I ask because lately I have had to narrow my routine down to the basics because of time and my schedule. I have been doing a program from Chase Karnes that is an a /b split that supersets compound movements for busy people . I have been getting stronger but unsure if just the military press is enough to build big shoulders for example. Also, there isn't any cardio listed so I feel like I'm going to get out of shape. Would it hurt my gains to jump rope or go for a jog for 20 to 30 minutes two to three times a week or is that too much? Thanks

    1. Jogging for 20 minutes isn't going to kill your gains at all.

      Larry Williams is a physical freak. Don't compare yourself to him unless you are one as well.

      It is possible to get big with just the basics, especially if you are a novice or intermediate. You don't need to worry about getting more specialized until you become more advanced. When you are military pressing 300 pounds do you not think your shoulders would have to be bigger?

    2. I workout at home right now and I'm just looking for a template to follow to get strong and in shape. I struggle with most programs because they never mention cardio at all, so I end up doing too much or nothing at all. I realize I can't be Williams but if I can obtain a physique like that and be super strong I would rather just do compound moves instead of doing worthless exercises.